Apple's newest iPhone XS is now available. But which do you pick: big, or bigger? The XS comes in two sizes, and the bigger XS Max is a whole lot of screen. For the most part, that's its singular advantage.
There's a reason Apple may not have called the XS Max the XS Plus. For years, a Plus-sized iPhone has offered a bigger screen, a bit more battery life and a better dual rear camera. This year, the iPhone XS and XS Max have identical processors, RAM and cameras. Getting the new 6.5-inch Max is really about increasing the display size (with added pixels), and getting a little extra battery to boot (about an hour). It'll cost you $100 for the privilege.
I've been using the Max and the smaller XS back and forth, comparing the feel and the apps, the everyday experience. The Max has a fantastic screen, and it feels about the same to hold as an iPhone 8 Plus. So, if you like that size, go for it -- if you can afford it. It's a beautiful luxury.
If you want a larger-screen iPhone and don't want to pay quite as much, you might want to wait for the LCD-display iPhone XR. But if you want the best, biggest iPhone display, regardless of price (or pocket size), this is it.
The Max might be growing on me, but the 5.8-inch iPhone X (and XS) already pulled off a great feat in fitting more screen in a smaller size. Going back to a bigger phone after that feels like defeating the purpose. But it's a personal choice now. I've always liked the 10.5-inch iPad Pro versus the 12.9-inch. I like the 13-inch MacBook over the 15. Others feel differently. So, too, the XS and Max. (Note: These ratings are tentative until we complete additional battery, photo and performance testing.)
What does that screen size give you? The display on the XS Max has tons of pixels: 2,688x1,242, in fact. Movies and games, in particular, look great on it. It's as nice as a Kindle. But side by side with the XS, there's not always a dramatic difference. In fact, I found myself getting confused when I saw both on a table.
The smaller XS' screen resolution is 2,436x1,125 pixels. That's not a huge difference. But it can do just enough to make a video nicer to look at, or a document better to read and edit, or a photo easier to see fine details in.
The notch at the top of the XS Max is the same as the X and XS, and it feels like it vanishes more on the larger-bodied phone, making the all-screen effect more immersive. By the way, it's a damn nice display... the OLED looks better this time around, and I've enjoyed looking at it. It's my favorite Apple device display.
Much like the Plus iPhones, a few apps have a dual-pane split view -- Notes and Apple's Mail are a few key ones. It all depends on the app, though. Apps need to update to take advantage of this, or add support for the Max's extra pixels. Similarly, some websites enter a more iPad or laptop-like full-web mode in landscape mode on Safari, but I only had luck with a few so far, The New York Times being one of them. Your mileage may vary here.
It's a big phone to hold, once again. It feels like the same size and weight as the 8 Plus, although it's slightly bigger and heavier. It weighs about an ounce more than the XS. Once again, it requires especially big pockets -- you might need a coat or a bag to put it in.
The speakers are booming. Much like the XS, the audio sounds great. Maybe even more so on the Max.
Battery life is better, but once again not stellar. An hour and a half more than the iPhone X is Apple's claim. I'm still testing battery formally here, but in everyday use it lasts a solid day and then some in casual use. But in heavy use, I felt like I should top off the charge by midday.
Oh, the price! This phone starts at $1,099 in the US with only 64GB of storage. From there it skyrockets up to a max of $1,449 with 512GB of storage, which is basically the cost of a MacBook Pro.
This just isn't affordable for any normal person, and the Max seems to acknowledge it's a specialty product. The amount of storage I'd use on a phone like this would be at least 128GB, but there isn't a 128GB storage tier... just a 256GB, for $1,249. (Gulp.)
The same phone, otherwise, as the XS. Apple's made it easy: just pick your screen size. The XS and XS Max have the same insides and camera this year, which is great for consistency, and also means the Max isn't necessary. But it's $100 more, and at these crazy prices, maybe that seems like a splurge worth splurging even more on.
But if you love bigger phones, why not wait for the iPhone XR? Apple has a new proposition this year: the middle-sized, 6.1-inch, more affordable iPhone XR, coming Oct. 26. It has a less exciting, lower-resolution LCD display, but a display that is indeed larger than the regular iPhone X.
starting at $749, will be $350 less than the Max for the same storage. It'll have the same A12 processor and front Face ID-equipped camera, but only one rear camera, although it'll have some simulated portrait mode effects for photos of people, and will have similar improved camera qualities as the XS. It's aluminum and glass instead of steel and glass. You should wait for it, and see if it's great. I don't have one to review yet.
The XR looms as maybe the best value iPhone X of the year. But if you've got money to burn and love a bigger screen, the Max is your bag. I wouldn't spend this much on a phone, but I do appreciate taking a spin in a luxury car once in a while.
Apple iPhone XS Max review %
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